Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hey Mambo, Mambo Italiano!

My mother grew up on the South Shore in Massachusetts, near the Pardo family, who owned a restaurant that she spent a good deal of time at. She said that Mrs. Pardo was old school Italian, making her own pasta, her own sauce and kept chunks of real Parmesan cheese covered in mold in the cooler.

When I was in high school, my mother found a recipe for homemade pasta sauce that was very similar to the sauce Mrs. Pardo made. After years of eating sauce from a jar, this recipe changed the way I viewed pasta sauce.  It was flavorful! Needless to say, I'm spoiled by homemade pasta sauce now and hesitate at the thought of buying a jar...even if I'm out of my own sauce.

Since Ma found this recipe almost 22 years ago, I’ve tweaked it many times, trying to perfect it. I’ve tried it with Chianti, with white wine and dry red. I’ve added and subtracted the amount of tomatoes, using pureed and whole plum. I’ve played with the herbs. And finally...FINALLY...I've perfected it to my own taste buds.

Traditional Italian Pasta Sauce

4 (28 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
5 cloves of fresh garlic (you can never have too much garlic!)
2 ½ cups of Merlot wine
2 to 3 tablespoons of dried oregano
2 tablespoon of onion powder
6 fresh basil leaves
Salt & Pepper

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Crush the garlic into oil and sauté until golden brown for a minute or two. Slowly add half of the crushed tomatoes (2 cans) and half of the Merlot, stirring continuously.

Add the remaining tomatoes and wine, reduce the heat to low and let it simmer.

Add the oregano and onion powder, and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Finally, add the basil. Salt and pepper to taste.

This recipe makes 10 to 12 pints and may be kept in the refrigerator for up to a week.  You can also freeze it for much longer (I’ve kept it for up to 6 months…but ordinarily it gets eaten loooooong before this!).

This is really just a base sauce.  It can be used now or you can let it simmer for another couple hours to really thicken it. You can also add ground beef, ground turkey, sausage or chunky veggies to add flavor and texture.

And that bread you see in the background, that's sourdough Grandmother Bread, from Chickens in the Road. This has become my favorite bread recipe! So yummy!!!

Monday, February 29, 2016

Storage Wars...or How I Finally Have the Kitchen Storage I Need

When I moved into my house, almost six years ago, storage was an issue. It remained an issue. Move two extra people and a big sausage roll of a dog in get the picture. 

I loved the concept of a tiny home, until I realized I was living in one (2 bedroom, 1 bath, half a duplex) and we are not minimalists. We're not packrats either, but we have stuff. Stuff that we'd like to use, but have no place to put it, other than to store it in a box in the basement and take it out only when we need it. We have things that will be useful once we can move to a bigger house, and these are things that we won't find again (without paying an arm and a leg my husband's enormous roll-top oak desk that currently sits at my nephew's house). So I'm not willing to give those things up. 

My kitchen has long plagued me. It's set up completely wrong, with cabinet space that is totally useless unless you're Mr. Fantastic, with stretchy arms! It's hell to try and reach under those counters into a back corner to get a heavy pressure cooker, or the bread pan that slid waaaaay back there by accident.  Counter space is at a premium, so extra storage to put the microwave and toaster oven on are essential.  There's no pantry space, so I had two small sets of shelves against one wall and two crappy, fiberboard shelf blocks under the microwave against another wall. 

A jumbled mess of stuff!

My longtime goal has been to build shelving that goes up to the ceiling (or close to it).  I finally...FINALLY...set aside time and money to do it. Valentine's Day weekend, my husband and I picked up lumber.  I just used an inexpensive soft wood (SPF). Now I know I could have gone out and bought shelves for less than what we paid for the wood, but I really enjoy woodworking, amateur though I may be. It challenges me to build my skill and I learn from every mistake.  It's also a great source of pride to see things I've made grace my home.  I appreciate those things so much more. 

I spent Saturday (2/20/16) cutting and sanding...and cutting and sanding some more. It took forever, but I did manage to put half of it together before I was done for the day.  And I was just toast. It had been a long day and all I wanted was to wash the fine layer of sawdust from my hair, face and arms!

As you can see, my supervisor Sid had to check out my
work. She's a bit of task-master, so she's lucky she's cute!

This past Saturday, I spent cutting shelf separators and corner wedges (and cutting and sanding, yet again). It was tedious work, but it stabilized the whole piece and made it look so much better.

On Sunday, my dearest darling husband hauled it out of the basement, to the deck for staining. I chose Minwax Provincial (only because Lowe's was out of my favorite, Early America).  

It came out much darker than I had anticipated, but it grew on me as I continued to stain.  I loved the way it really darkened up the unique characteristics of the grain. 

By 4:00 PM, it was ready for the kitchen.  Nick and I emptied the space, took down the shelf on the wall and brought this 7 foot monstrosity in!  By 6:00 PM, it was secured to the wall and filled to the brim.  Nick had already emptied the fiberboard boxes onto the kitchen table and brought up the sewing table (that will eventually go upstairs), as a temporary microwave stand...just until we can invest in a dishwasher this summer.  

We had two shoe cubbies by the door, stacked on top of each other, housing our shoes in the kitchen. It wasn't the most esthetically pleasing thing to look at, but it was mostly functional.  I got the bright idea to repurpose the two smaller shelves that this unit replaced as shoe and extra storage by the door:

It also opened up an extra foot of space at the end of the table and we can store canned goods and dog food there, rather than on the floor by the corner hutch (which was just messy and annoying).  AND my kitchen table is completely in, we can actually sit at it and eat dinner again!

I keep walking into my kitchen and marveling at how functional it is and joyful it makes me!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2012 to 2016

It's been a while! I’ve been thinking about restarting the blog for a few months now; sharing my new adventures. I used to be so diligent with my blogging and then...well, my "get up and go" for blogging just got up and went.  But I think it’s time to get back to it.

Let me give you the 30 second tour of the last few years…

Life got stagnant for the better part of 2013, I felt like I was just spinning my wheels every day and I didn’t know how to stop.  Later that year got a little crazy, as I started having random panic attacks.  I talked to my mother, I talked to my sister, I talked to my friends and I finally came to the realization that I wasn’t alone with this issue…that it was time to do something about the social anxiety that had plagued me my whole life, that I didn’t talk about, that I just quietly dealt with.  So I talked to my doctor and got the help I needed.  And, hindsight being 20/20, I wish I had done this YEARS ago!  It started changing my life. I felt more focused, more confident.  It was like a whole new world had unfolded before my eyes.

And just as I was starting to feel better about myself, my mood, my outlook on life, devastation hit.  I lost my brother to suicide a week before Christmas and for almost two months, I was a zombie. I slept a lot, I cried a lot, I didn’t eat much and I lay on the couch watching countless hours of mind-numbing television…but I couldn’t tell you what I watched.  I was living inside my head and running the gamut of emotions from sadness to anger to depression, back to anger.  When I had to go back to work in January of 2014, I put on a brave face by day, but came home exhausted and slept on the couch for the better part of the evening, before stumbling upstairs to bed. In February, I woke up on the couch one morning, having not moved all night, to the sound of my brother’s voice in my head saying, “Get up, ya Sally! Don’t waste your life!” (calling someone a Sally was one of his terms of endearment – he didn’t suffer sissies, especially when he knew you weren’t giving something your all). His voice flipped a switch inside me.  It was time to wake up from this stupor. I needed to start living again. I didn’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to die alone, regretting the life I hadn’t lived to its fullest. I wanted a family. I wanted a purpose. I wanted meaning in my life, not just endless days of spinning my wheels. So I checked my “independent woman who doesn’t need a man to take care of her, define her or justify her existence” attitude at the door and started dating again.

It was difficult!  I was so used to being on my own, by this time, that the thought of putting myself out there was scary. I was trying very hard to be realistic, especially with what I was looking for in a partner. Luckily, I had a friend who was recently divorced and had already been navigating the dating pool ahead of me.  She was my self-help guru and sounding board...and thank god for her!  She was a wealth of knowledge, experience and advice.  She made me aware of the frogs in the pool and especially the sharks! Luckily there were no sharks, but there were a few frogs in that dating pool and yes, I kissed a few hoping they’d turn into princes, but alas they remained frogs.  Then one day, as I was beginning to think that being single and alone wasn’t so bad after all, Old Blues Eyes started chatting me up (no, not Frank Sinatra!). Old Blue Eyes (Nick to his friends…Michigan to me) was fun; he was interesting; we had tons in common; he got my obscure TV, movie and cartoon references.  And man, did he ever make me laugh!  We met up for lunch one Sunday and that was it.  I knew I was done dating.  I found a prince amid the frogs!  He blew every preconceived notion I had about love out of the water and within two weeks, he moved in…with a 6 year old, autistic daughter and a 100 lb yellow lab in tow.  Now for me, this was huge!  I’ve always tsk-tsk’ed others for getting too involved before you actually get to know a person, and here I was making space in my tiny half of a duplex for a ready-made family.  I looked for the red flags, the flashing neon signs that he and I had moved WAY too fast. But with every test we faced in this budding relationship, there were no red flags. We fit so well together; we often knew what the other was thinking and could anticipate each others needs and wants quickly.  Our goals in life aligned.  Our ability to work on projects together so easily and without argument surprised me.  And I began to realize just what I had been missing in my life.  He didn’t define me, he complimented the independent person that I was.  We took care of each other, physically and emotionally.  I finally felt that I had stopped spinning my wheels.

The ready-made family aspect was a challenge for me. I didn’t have children of my own, never lived with children (other than visits with my nephew and niece) and had no knowledge of what living with an autistic child would mean…even if it was only on the weekends. But I read as much as I could, I paid attention to Ellie, to her behavioral patterns, and how she learned. This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Could I be a disciplinarian?  Did I have the patience needed for her? Ellie already had a mother, how would she view me…this stranger who suddenly took up residence in her and her father’s lives? Could I be a mother figure? All these questions swirled in my head and there were many moments where I feared this little girl.  Did she like me, did she not like me?  Was I making her life better or worse?  But what I learned was that through these challenges, there was always successes.  I developed patience that never existed before.  I was seeing things with new eyes.  Ellie was making me a better person. She taught me more about myself in the first few months that we lived together than I had learned in the last several years!  I embraced my role in her life, developing mama bear instincts within me that I didn’t know I had.  :^)  And I finally understood the joy that many of my friends felt at the prospect of going home after a long day to their families.

In July of 2015, after a year and five days together, Nick and I got married. I wake up each day, viewing it as a true blessing. I used to fill my days and nights with endless projects and hobbies, because that’s all I had. Now, my greatest joy is to just be with Nick and Ellie, hanging out, having a lazy day.  These two have given my life meaning and fulfilled my wish for a family of my own.  They are my family now and I couldn’t be more grateful!  We’re hoping that we can expand our little family, in the near future.  It’s one of our goals, as well as developing our homestead.

And that, my friends, brings you up to speed on my life.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Big Things!

So much is happening-no time to sit an write about it. Will make time later! Lets just say that it's big...huge!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Weekend Full of Projects

I love three day weekends - I get so much done around the house and I get to play!  This weekend has been full of projects. Thanks once again to Pinterest for two more great ideas.

From this pin, I created this:

Its just a tomato cage with a little bit of wire wrapped with a set of 100 bulb Christmas lights.

From this pin, this idea sprouted in my head:

I used a 1x6x8 and a 1x1x6, ring shank finish nails and walnut stain.  My plan is to layer Christmas greens and red berries in them, add a mason jar of Epsom salts with a votive and put cookies and goodies with it as gifts for family and friends. 

 I only made two, but I'm thinking I may make more.  I think they cost me a total of $5 each to make, since I already had the stain and the nails.  

I also made terrariums a few weeks ago as gifts for family and friends. This weekend, I made one for myself!  I had bought the little glass house about 14 years ago, when I lived in Canada. It'll be like a little bit of summer in the forest, but in my living room and in the dead of winter.

And I started forcing my hyacinth and tulip bulbs:

I couldn't find my bulb vases - they're somewhere hidden in the basement in a box - so I improvised with old mason jars.  I just took out the lids and tightened the bands down over tulle.  I sliced an X cut in the center of the tulle for the roots to grow through.  They're under the corner hutch in the kitchen now, where it's cool and dark.  They should be ready  just in time for Christmas!

I think I may get more hyacinth bulbs, since I only have four, the rest are tulips. I'd like to add these to the Christmas gift trays.  My plan is to cover the mason jars with Christmas fabric tied with ribbon, to pretty them up.

Besides the projects, I got the coop cleaned, the dishes and laundry done, the house vacuumed, and the bathroom washed.  Tomorrow, all I need to do is put away laundry and iron three days worth of clothes, as its going to be a very short week (I took Friday off for my birthday - yay!!).  Next weekend will likely be for making the soft Christmas gifts.  I promised my mother and aunt each one of these:
Punch Needle Sewing Case
Only one problem...I made it without a pattern (other than the one in my head) back in August, so now I have to sit down and figure out how I made it! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Hello Snow...

Winter, you're like a lost lover. Out of the blue you show up, begging for forgiveness of past sins, promising it'll be different this time. And for the first three months it is. You shower me with beautiful days through Christmas and New Years; snow shoeing and long walks in the silent forest.

By February, the cold winds of change start to blow and you start pulling away again. Our relationship turns stormy, icy. By March, we both know its over, but you refuse to let go. It takes that good friend I have in Spring to help me through and remind me that the better days of Summer are yet to come.

But here you are, back again, and I just can't say no to you!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are You Sure It's Already November?

It just dawned on me, as I sit before a crackling stove, thinking about how peaceful and quiet my walk with the dog was in the crisp cold this's November! And Election Day to boot! Smartly, I already voted (whoo hoo absentee ballots!!). But what really dawned on me was that its almost Christmas and I haven't started a single homemade gift. I have all these ideas in my head for gifts and decorations, plus I promised needle punch cases to my mother and aunt...only I haven't even pulled out fabric for them! And I slapped mine together without bothering to write down how I did it, so now I have to remember the process.

I guess my taking my birthday (next Friday) off was a really good idea. It will give me two three day weekends in a row to get the creative juices flowing...and give me time to go buy more wool felt!

(p.s. I've named the Minorcas Frida & Diego...he just looks like a Diego.)